"Jupiter, disguised in the body of a satyr, made Antiope, the charming daughter of Nycteus, pregnant with twins": that is the cold-blooded account given in the Metamorphoses by the Roman poet Ovid, the "Bible" of classical mythology. Antiope is one of the many sex objects of the supreme deity. The young Anthony van Dyck "he was about twenty years old when he made this painting" chose to depict the moment when Jupiter "discovers" the sleeping Antiope and reveals his intentions. The deity is accompanied by his customary attribute, the eagle.Voyeur scenes such as this have a long and rich tradition. They turn the spectator into an accomplice, a "co-voyeur", as it were. In this youthful work, Van Dyck already displays great skill, but it is also obvious that he is still greatly indebted to his teacher, Rubens. Apparently, it was a great success, because several versions of it have come down to us. The Ghent copy is presumed to be Van Dyck's own work.
How should we interpret this so-called "indecent" scene? In the first place, myths offered painters opportunities to depict beautiful nudes in a variety of settings, sometimes even in an erotic context. Here, Antiope's shapely ivory-coloured body attracts the eye first, set off against the background of a red velvet drapery. With a view to effect, she is lying in a somewhat artificial posture.Antiope is asleep in a "state of nature" in more than one sense, and the satyr is a symbol of the primeval force of that same nature. In one sense, the scene could be read as positive; in that case, it is a tale of fertility, abundance and wealth. On the other hand, it is of course still a picture of a reprehensible and objectionable deed, and therefore this painting can also be seen as having a negative moral message.
SizeH: 150 cm
MediumOil on canvas